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Saturday, 24 September 2016

Ticket Out Of Town

For the next few months, this might be the only jersey we see defenceman Jacob Trouba in after he announced today that he will not be attending Winnipeg Jets training camp after demanding a trade from the team. This is a bit of a head-scratching move when it comes to the reasons why Trouba wants out of the prairie city, but he has stated his case and left the ball clearly in GM Kevin Cheveldayoff's court as he skates in Michigan to stay in shape for when he is finally traded. While I respect Trouba's wishes to play elsewhere, I find this move by a player who has little to no leverage to be rather shortsighted when it comes to his long-term career. If we see Trouba in the NHL this season, it will only be because he has come to his senses.

To set the scene, here is the statement released by Trouba's agent, Kent Overhardt.
"Our client, Jacob Trouba, will not be attending the Winnipeg Jets NHL training camp. Since May, we have been working with the Jets management in an effort to facilitate a trade of Jacob's rights. Both parties continue to work on this matter.

There has been no negotiation regarding the terms of a contract between our client and the Jets over the course of the last several months. The situation is not about money; it is solely about our client having the opportunity to realize his potential as a right shot NHL defenseman.

To the Jets credit, the club has two outstanding right shot veteran defensemen and our client simply wants the opportunity to have a greater role. As a consequence of the Jets depth on the right side, we believe it is in both parties’ best interest to facilitate a mutually advantageous trade.

Our client has nothing but respect for the people and City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Jets, its fans, management and ownership - our desire to get him moved has everything to do with opportunity. We will continue to work with the Jets in good faith to achieve this end."
The initial shock wasn't that great to me because I had called for Trouba's trade during the Travis Hamonic trade party last season. Reportedly, the Jets were not interested in dealing Trouba and parts for Hamonic to the New York Islanders despite it making good economical and roster sense for a team desperately looking to upgrade its blue line. In reading the statement above, though, it appears that Trouba and his camp have a different opinion about his growth and progress as a player in Winnipeg, and he would like to explore those options elsewhere.

C'est la vie, I guess.

It's hard to defend Trouba's stance when he played the third-most minutes on Winnipeg's blue line last year of all their defencemen. Trouba didn't put up all-star numbers when it came to goals and assists, but he certainly was one of Winnipeg's better defenders down the stretch as they battled for a playoff spot. He was physical when called upon, blocked shots, and moved the puck which is exactly what Winnipeg needs from their blue line.

What he sees, it seems, is that he played the third-most minutes behind the other two right-hand defenders in Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. In other words, two guys are eating into his minutes where he could show more offensive ability, and he had asked in May that he be given the opportunity to ply his trade with another NHL club. As I looked more at the numbers, I can understand that Trouba wants top-four minutes on the right side, shouldn't one have to earn those minutes by outplaying one of Byfuglien or Myers? Trouba didn't do that last season, and Trouba's level play has plateaued hard in the last two seasons. This leads me to believe that he's a bottom-four defenceman at best unless he either gets faster, stronger, smarter, or a combination of the three. With him not attending training camp, we won't know if he improved in any of those three departments.

As I read Overhardt's words over and over tonight, one thought swept over me that would give Trouba the fresh start he desires and the minutes he feels he deserves. In fact, it would be the best of both worlds for the Jets and Trouba if the Jets really wanted to send a message to the unhappy youngster.

Trade him to Las Vegas.

There's no reason why Las Vegas can't make a trade for Jacob Trouba right now. Sure, he won't play all season, but that's currently where he's headed if he doesn't step back from his self-imposed holdout. The longer he doesn't play, the less likely it will be that he's traded at all since teams are routinely in the practice of employing NHL-ready players. Jonathan Drouin learned this the hard way last season, and once he got himself rolling he became a fixture in the Tampa Bay lineup. All it took was the realization that holding out is worse than playing poorly.

In Las Vegas, Trouba would be the face of the franchise - a top-pairing American defenceman with unlimited potential. He would get a chance to help mold that franchise into a winner while playing top minutes on the right side for a team needing NHL-ready defencemen. With the potential new contract Trouba would sign, he'd also get to keep more of the money with Nevada having state income tax, but we should be aware this was not about the money (because if he had gotten his $6 million-per-season deal, he'd still want out, right?). In all honesty, Trouba should be begging to be traded to Vegas where he'd literally be "the man" on the WhateverTeamName's blue line.

The Jets could call in a few favors from the Las Vegas franchise with this trade such as selecting no rostered players off the Jets' roster or by delivering future considerations off their expansion roster. They could deal draft picks to help sweeten the deal in future years. They could combine any or all of these options in securing Trouba from the Jets, and both parties would come out better off than just watching Trouba sit until he decides he's ready to play.

"But Teebz," you say, "the Jets still need a defenceman!" I hear you, and I suggested this early on in free agency that they sign long-time NHL rearguard Dennis Seidenberg to a contract. Seidenberg, for those that haven't been watching, is having an outstanding tournament at the World Cup of Hockey Money, and Jets head coach Paul Maurice has had an up-close look at the former Bruins defenceman all tournament long. I'm quite certain that Seidenberg would come in for a season or two under Trouba's asking price, so getting an NHL-ready defenceman for the next season or two would be an easy play until one of Josh Morrissey, Brenden Kichton, Jan Kostalek, or Julien Melchiori are ready to jump into that top-six spot.

Whatever happens, I doubt we'll ever see Trouba in a Jets uniform again unless he does a major 180-degree turn like Drouin did. While I'm not blaming agent Kurt Overhardt for the trade, there are some striking similarities between the statement released today and the one that Overhardt made to ESPN when Kyle Turris requested a trade from the Arizona-then-Phoenix Coyotes.
"This has never been about money, we've been upfront with the club from Day 1," Overhardt told Thursday. "We've respectfully requested that the player had the opportunity to move forward in his career by having a fresh start."
Is this some sort of form letter than Overhardt has ready for any disgruntled player? The wording is almost eerily the same in his statement to ESPN in 2011 and the written statement released today. Wow.

In any case, questions will be raised about Winnipeg's development system once more with Trouba's trade demands. People will point at how they mishandled Evander Kane and how they are holding back Connor Hellebuyck, but there have been some young players who have accepted the challenges and used them to get better. Mark Scheifele has emerged as a top-flight centerman in the NHL, and we're seeing the likes of Adam Lowry, Brenden Lemieux, Andrew Copp, and Joel Armia begin to get a handle on their futures. The sky's the limit for Patrik Laine, but he's going to have to work hard in his first season if he wants to move into the superstar tier of players.

Normally, when a company's stock levels off, the company has to do something drastic like re-invent itself or release a new product. Jacob Trouba's stock has leveled off, so he needs to re-invent himself by being better than what he had been in the last two seasons. He still has a ton of untapped potential to draw upon, but he needs to work hard to bring that potential to light. If he thinks that a change of scenery will help, he's under the same fallacy that Jonathan Drouin was under last season before he bought into the hard work and discipline needed to be a dynamic NHL player.

As any young person or businessman will tell you, changing locations doesn't eliminate your problems as they always follow you to wherever you land. The only place where Trouba could be considered a top-four defenceman is a place where they have no top-four defencemen such as Las Vegas. And if it's truly not about money, he'll always be looking at the next opportunity unless he improves his on-ice product past the point of where it has stagnated for the last two seasons.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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